Directed by filmmaking firebrand Ken Loach, the aggressively current Route Irish (Artificial Eye) sees the veteran director back on uncompromising territory after the comparatively whimsical Looking For Eric.
Boozy Fergus (Mark Womack) returns to his native Liverpool for the funeral of life-long friend Frankie (stand-up comedian John Bishop), who died while working as a private security contractor in Iraq -a job that fellow ex-soldier Fergus fixed-up for him.
Likable Frankie was killed on ‘Route Irish’, the infamous -and frequently deadly -stretch of road between Baghdad airport and the military Green Zone, but embittered Fergus is suspicious of the official account of his best friend’s death, and proceeds to instigate his own, off-the-books investigation. When a mysterious mobile phone comes into Fergus’s possession -containing a disturbing video depicting the slaughter of an innocent Iraqi family just days before Frankie’s own death, Fergus is compelled to uncover the truth, and avenge his pal in the process.
Route Irish is a fascinating, horribly compelling insight into the murky, unregulated world of private security firms who are making a killing (quite literally in some cases) in conflict-ravaged Iraq. TV actor Mark Womack -who is probably best known for being married to Eastenders star Samantha Janus in real life -is a revelation as Fergus, and imbues the central role with a fierce intensity that allows him to effectively act as Loach’s mouthpiece as the veteran director shines a light on security contractor corruption.
Not even the unlikely involvement of comedian John Bishop detracts from the film’s violent trajectory, and the increasingly unhinged turn of events finds Loach in kinetic form. It may not be Loach’s most sophisticated work, but the ferocious narrative exudes fury throughout, and the undercurrent of Bourne-style intrigue should ensure that the film taps into a wider-than-usual audience. In conclusion: the man has got something to say -so let’s pay attention.
After 12 years mired in development hell, Canadian comedy-drama Barney’s Version (Universal) finally made it to the big-screen in 2010. Based on the chunky novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version follows the life and times of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti, Sideways, American Splendour) a boozy TV executive with a knack for falling in love with the wrong woman at the wrong time. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the irascible Barney falls for the enchanting Miriam (Rosamund Pike) at his own wedding reception!
After a sluggish opening section, in which the film explores Barney’s ill-fated first marriage to free-spirited Clara (Rachelle Lefevre, Twilight), Barney’s Version gets into its stride when Barney marries his second wife (Minnie Driver), a self-absorbed Jewish heiress who is oblivious to Barney’s lack of interest in her, and the film evolves into a delightful serio-comic saga that makes great use deadpan Giamatti’s comic timing.
Although Barney’s Version may not sound particularly exciting, its sly narrative -as re-told by the notoriously unreliable Barney himself -is well-judged and compelling, rarely striking a false note. Giamatti is on top form as the unlikely ladies man, and he is joined by a twinkly-eyed Dustin Hoffman, who steals numerous scenes as Barney’s reliably supportive father, Izzy. Interestingly, Hoffman is far funnier here than he is in the tired likes of Meet The Fockers, suggesting that his comic talents are better served by subtlety than slapstick. All in all, a surprisingly idiosyncratic treat.
With Oscar nods -for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor (Javier Bardem) -to its name, Biutiful‘s (Optimum) reputation precedes it; but does the latest movie from Mexican auteur Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) live up to the hype?
Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) stars as Uxbal, a street-wise criminal who prowls Barcelona’s sordid underworld pulling off a variety of ambitious scams with his criminal associates. However, while his immoral acquaintances -including his self-assured brother Tito and shifty Chinese crime boss Hai -care little for the illegal immigrants who earn them their money, Uxbal’s conscience drives him to try and protect the men and women under his charge.
Lurking in the background are Ana and Mateo, his two children who he looks after single-handedly on account of his self-destructive wife Marambra’s mental instability and alcoholism. Uxbal tries to impose structure on his chaotic family life, but his life as a career criminal sits ill-at-ease with his fragile domestic set-up. When Uxbal is diagnosed with a serious illness, he is determined to take action to make a better life for his children before he shuffles off his mortal coil.
After the mainstream contrivances of the uneven Babel, director Inarritu returns to the grittier material of his early work, and his portrait of the Barcelonan underworld is bleak and evocative. After enduring question marks over whether his trademark ‘fractured narrative’ technique was merely a prop supporting his overwrought storytelling, Biutiful sees Inarritu adopt a conventional narrative technique for the first time, and while the lack of narrative trickery suits the unpretentious subject matter, the film develops into something of an endurance test as it crawls towards the 140-minute mark.
Unfortunately, when the dust settles, Biutiful is little more than a swollen kitchen-sink drama, and arguably ranks as Inarritu’s least rewarding film. Aside from an awesome, power-house performance from Bardem, Biutiful is a surprisingly disappointing movie from a distinctive talent. Exhausting stuff.